Aug 5, 2013
This article is from the July 26th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.
On July 11th, about ten days after the beginning of winter vacations in Brazil and the end of the great demonstrations of June against the high price of transit fares, the union federations called for a day of struggle with strikes and demonstrations.
There was a widespread response to this appeal. There were several million strikers, not only public workers. And more than 80 freeways and major highways were blocked. The port of Santos, the most important in Latin America, was paralyzed, as also was the industrial complex and port of Suape with 75,000 workers in the state of Pernambuco. The movement also affected oil refineries, big construction sites and auto factories, like Ford and Volvo.
There was a true general strike in some big cities, in particular in public transit, in Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre. In the latter city, a day earlier students occupied the city council buildings. At the end of a week, two bills were introduced, one setting up free bus service for students and the unemployed, the other opening city transit accounts to inspection. These bills still have to be voted on, but the mobilization continues for completely free transit in the city.
This day of struggle, which was the most important in 20 years, marked the return to the scene of the working class. But the demands of the union federations are diverse and in general modest. So the CUT (Unified Workers Central), linked to the Workers Party and the current administration, remains vague and advocates a “dialogue with society.” Força Sindical (Union Force), linked to the right wing opposition parties, calls for economic change and a struggle against inflation. These federations above all remind everyone that they are present. They called for a new day mobilization on August 30th, indicating again that it wasn’t a call for a general strike.
The federal government had trouble tackling the problem. President Dilma Rousseff, whose popularity in June fell in the polls from 60% to 30%, proposed only the reform of the election system and party financing. She said she wanted more stable presidential majorities (some thirty parties are present in the Brazilian parliament.) Her proposals were rejected by the parties she bases herself on, which are the product of this electoral system and are fed by dubious financing. Now, she speaks of resolving the problems of health, but above all it seems she wants to cure her own popularity, one year before the presidential election in October 2014.
Some people, in the Workers Party and in the country, hope for the return of Lula. The former unionist led the country from 2003 to 2010 in a long period of economic prosperity. His popularity is intact and he enjoys it, remarking good-naturedly that the recent mobilizations were the result of the economic success of the country and that it was natural for more of the better educated youth to demand better conditions of life.
The economic and social situation of the country doesn’t depend on the talent or the mistakes of its government. Dilma Rousseff enjoyed a popularity almost equal to that of Lula, up until the transit crisis in June. It seems that the world crisis is hitting Brazil hard, and that the working class will need to mobilize to refuse to pay the price for it.